Saturday, April 11, 2009

The contemporary relevance of Charles Dickens

As this article from the LA Times says, our "hard times"--though relatively benign compared to depressions of decades and century's past--have made Dickens relevant again.

What the article hints at, but does not quite say, is there was an attack on Dickens which grew in the literary academy during the 1950s and 1960s. The attack became received wisdom by the 1970s in many corners among "professional" literature professors in the academy, and is based upon an overall attack on what those professors (and some writers) perceived as an undue sentimentality in Dickens' works. What such critics tend to miss is the dark side of Dickens' sentiment. They also miss Dickens' insight as to the interaction between culture and economics, an insight which always makes Dickens compelling, especially now.

As I am often heard to say, Sinclair Lewis is to America, what Dickens is to England. Both are too often denigrated by so-called sophisticated minds, yet both intellectuals and those looking for "entertainment" loved the works of both during each of their lives. What struck me in the article, and the article writer Scott Timberg does a marvelous job here, is how many respected writers cite Dickens as an influence, and sometimes a muse.

A great read, and if you catch any of the Masterpiece miniseries from the Dickens books, those are also excellent.


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